THE LADY IRIS MOUNTBATTEN
Lady Iris Mountbatten
(holding a picture of her ONLY child - Robin)
On the wall is a 1934 portrait
by Philip de Lászlo of her mother
- Irene, Marchioness of Carisbrooke
The Lady Iris Victoria Beatrice Grace Mountbatten was born on 13th January 1920 at Kensington Palace, London, the only child of Sir Alexander Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Carisbrooke, formerly HH Prince Alexander of Battenberg (1886-1960) and The Lady Irene Frances Adza Denison (1890-1956), the only daughter of Sir William Denison, 2nd Earl of Londesborough (1864-1917). Iris was the only British grandchild of Princess Beatrice (1857-1944), who enjoyed her role as a grandmother much more than she ever did as a mother. In December 1926, Beatrice wrote - "I spent a very peaceful quiet Christmas and had the pleasure of seeing my dear little grand-daughter’s joy over her tree and toys.”
On 1st March 1920, Iris was christened at The Chapel Royal, St James's Palace, London by The Most Rev & Rt Hon. Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of York (who would later be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury), later Lord Lang of Lambeth (1864-1945) in the presence of Queen Alexandra, formerly Princess Alexandra 'Alix' of Denmark (1844-1925), Prince Edward 'David', The Prince of Wales, subsequently King Edward VIII (1894(1936)1972) and later The Duke of Windsor, and many other members of the Royal Family. The Archbishop used water drawn from the historic well at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, the official residence of Iris' grandmother as Governor of the Isle of Wight.
Iris' godparents were - Princess Beatrice (1857-1944), the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901); Princess Victoria Eugénie 'Ena' of Battenberg, later The Queen of Spain (1887-1969); Princess Helena Victoria (1870-1948); Lord Leopold Mountbatten, formerly Prince Leopold of Battenberg (1889-1922); and her grandfather - Sir William Denison, 2nd Earl of Londesborough (1864-1917). During the service the hymn "Hear, Holy Father", composed by Princess Beatrice, Iris' grandmother, was sung by the choristers of The Chapels Royal.
Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother)
in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace in Coronation Robes
with her Maids of Honour. Lady Iris is the first from the right
Iris gained a reputation for being a bit rebellious and at 16yrs it was claimed she was the first woman to hold a motorbike licence in England. She grew into a popular society débutante and attended various Royal and society events. On 29th November 1934 she acted as one of the eight bridesmaids at the wedding of her cousins - Prince George, 1st Duke of Kent (1902-1942) and Princess Marina of Greece & Denmark (1906-1968) in Westminster Abbey, London. On 12th May 1937, Iris was one of the six train-bearers for Queen Elizabeth, formerly The Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon and later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1900-2002) at the Coronation of King George VI (1895-1952). She was the youngest of the Queen’s attendants being aged just 17yrs.
with her daughter Iris
in 1922, at her father's estate
- Blakeney Hall,
BELOW: Lady Iris
in November 1934
ABOVE: Lady Iris
as a bridesmaid
with Prince Edward 'David',
The Prince of Wales
(left) in November 1934
for the wedding of
Prince George, 1st Duke of Kent
& Princess Marina
of Greece & Denmark
BELOW: Lady Iris
(as a débutante) in 1937
LEFT: Lady Iris (aged 17yrs)
at her home in the State Apartments
at Kensington Palace, London
at the time of the Coronation
of King George VI
Lady Iris with her father -
Alexander, 1st Marquess of Carisbrooke
in July 1939 at a charity ball
at the Grosvenor House Hotel,
In 1939, Iris sought the excitement of the theatre, and went to the London Theatre Studio and began a course of stage production and design under the French actor, director and acting theorist Michel Saint-Denis (1897-1971), whose ideas on actor training had a profound influence on the development of European theatre from the 1930s on. During this time as a prominent debutante with Royal relations, Iris was in all the Society news attending film, theatre and opera premieres, or being photographed with leading figures in London's Society and famous actors at charity fundraising events such as portrait unveilings and balls, or in the fashionable South of France on holiday.
With the outbreak of World War II, The Carisbrookes (including Iris) moved out of London and went to stay with The Lady Avice Spicer, née Sackville (1897-1985), the daughter of Major Gilbert Sackville, 8th Earl De La Warr (1869-1915), and her second husband Captain Frank Fane Spicer (1893-1973), who was a cousin of Irene (Iris' mother) at their country home Spye Park, Chippenham, Wiltshire. Soon after they moved to Brantridge Park, Balcombe, Sussex, the former home of Queen Victoria's granddaughter - Princess Alice of Albany (1883-1981) and Major-General The Rt Hon. Sir Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone, formerly Prince Alexander of Teck (1874-1957) who was the brother of Queen Mary (1867-1953) and Governor-General of South Africa 1924-1931 and of Canada 1940-1946, which was the home of Iris' grandmother - Princess Beatrice, Princess Henry of Battenberg (1857-1944). Whilst staying at Brantridge Park, Iris worked for the Voluntary Aid Detatchment (VAD) at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, Sussex.
Captain Hamilton O'Malley & Lady Iris,
with her parents following their wedding (left)
Irene & (right) Alexander
On 18th January 1941, Iris’ engagement was formerly announced (a few days after her 21st birthday) to Captain (later Major) Hamilton 'Hammy' or 'Ham' Joseph Keyes O’Malley (1910-1989) - the eldest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Middleton O’Malley-Keyes (1882-1933) of Westport, County Mayo, Ireland. They were married on 15th February 1941 (1) at St Mary’s Church (Church of England), Balcombe, Sussex - the local church to Brantridge Park, and then (2) at St Paul’s RC Church, Haywards Heath, Sussex and then Their marriage did not have the full blessing of her family and caused a rift but they all 'put on a brave face', but the congregation was very small and did not include the usual collection of Royal relations.
ABOVE: St Mary's Church, Balcombe, Sussex
BELOW: St Paul's RC Church,
Haywards Heath, Sussex
Captain Hamilton O'Malley & Lady Iris,
following their wedding in February 1941
The first service (under the rites of the Church of England) was officiated by The Rev. Douglas L. Secretan, Rector of St Mary's, and the small number of witnesses included the elderly Princess Beatrice (1857-1944), the bride's grandmother; Alexander and Irene, the bride's parents; The second service (under the rites of the Roman Catholic Church) was officiated by a Chaplain of the Irish Guards, who was supported by Father Phillips, Rector of St Paul's. Iris wore the same outfit to both ceremonies - a powder-blue woollen dress, trimmed with silver fox furs, with a small matching powder-blue feathered hat, with a small veil and she wore a spray of orchids on her coat. Iris had no bridesmaids whatsoever and the best man for both services was a fellow officer from the Irish Guards - Major (later Lt-Col.) Giles Vandeleur (1911-1978). Following their marriage, Iris was officially styled 'The Lady Iris O'Malley'.
Sadly the marriage was not a happy one and they would soon drift apart. Like his father, O’Malley was an active officer in the Irish Guards (and he was one of their tallest - standing 6ft 4" tall) and saw active service in World War II, during which he was captured by the Germans after the Battle of Arnhem (Operation 'Market Garden') in 1944 and was a Prisoner of War, being repatriated in May 1945, and by this time the marriage was virtually over. Iris said later - "I was twenty-one and had never been kissed by any man... I knew almost nothing about sex. I was no more prepared for marriage than a baby. Little wonder that I was headed into tragedy." Iris commented about a miscarriage - "my husband was pleased about the baby, but not as excited and happy as I had prayed he would be... I lost my baby six months later, a miscarriage... and then I lost all desire to live!" A year after their marriage, Iris and O'Malley decided to separate.
Captain Hamilton O'Malley
After her divorce, Iris moved to the USA where she found life difficult at first, due to the fact that she had planned to sell Indian brocades to America on behalf of a textiles firm, but she discovered that she would have to be pay hefty duty on her fabric samples and she got into financial difficulties. Iris soon found herself in trouble with the police in July 1947 when she was charged with issuing worthless cheques for $185.05 (£22 4s 9d) in a dress shop in Washington DC. She was photographed with Sir Francis Evans (1897-1983), the UK Consul-General leaving the New York Criminal Court on parole. Her lawyer paid the money and the owner of the dress shop agreed to drop the charges. In her defence, Iris said that she did not know that it was an offence in the USA to issue a cheque without sufficient funds to cover the amount. After the charges were withdrawn, the US Bureau of Immigration & Naturalization ordered her to leave the USA. She said at the time - "I love this country, in spite of this incident" and hoped that she would be allowed to stay in the USA. She eventually found employment as a sales assistant in a New York fur store, and soon taught dance, became a model and wanted to become an actress. She became a hostess for a live TV children's programme "Versatile Varieties" and enjoyed her 'celebrity status' and appeared in adverts endorsing Pond's Creams and Warrens Mint Cocktail.
After four years of separation, Iris and O’Malley were divorced on 24 September 1946 - they had NO children. He remarried within months of the divorce and on 7th January 1949, Iris reverted to her maiden name of 'Mountbatten' by Deed Poll. Attitudes towards divorce were very different then and the scandal of a divorce (regardless of fault) meant virtual social ostracization as no divorced woman could be received publicly by members of the Royal Family. Iris would say in her later years - "I could never tell a divorce court the horrible, ugly things that happened, but my husband finally agreed to divorce me... If I had divorced him, it would have been okay. But for him to divorce me, that was really scandalous."